Aug 26, 2011

Maybe I'm too old for this

From a reader:
I'm having a "maybe I'm too old for this" day where it seems like I can't do anything right. Or, not even right, but just incrementally better than I did it last time. How do you get through those inevitable lack-of-progress-slumps, especially as an adult skater with no cheery peers to meet up with at the rink?
This reader sums up the two biggest roadblocks for adults: a sense of isolation coupled with the feeling that you just never get better.

Then there's that weird look you get when you tell people you're a skater. (Or the snide "oh, when are you going to the Olympics" remarks.)

The sense of isolation, in fact, feeds into the sense that you never get better. If you're skating mostly around kids, who make these brilliant leaps forward, your apparent slogging pace feels even more burdensome.

As an adult skater (as an adult anything), you have to make things happen for yourself. Your mother is not going to make you get up, and your coach is more likely to indulge any reluctance to push through, on the assumption that you have more of a clue than a child what you're capable of/willing to try. Here's what you can do:

Make a community
Don't just focus in on the rink that's closest to you. Hop around for a while and find the rinks, classes, and practice times that have a lot of adults, or just talk to the adults that you see--they will know where that ice is. I think you'll find that the extra 15 or 30 minutes drive (if you can afford it) will be well-worth the camaraderie. My experience of adult skaters is that they're friendly and welcoming, on the whole (there are a few stuck up ones, fuck 'em). Go to public skating regularly, and don't discount the hockey players or the moms in the stands. These are all people who are potentially your training mates, your cheering section, and, frankly, your drinking pals. See if you can get a coach to start a theater on ice program for adults (not through the rink--just through the coach). Find a rink that has an adult number in the ice show (not all of them do) and skate in it. I cannot stress this enough. Ice shows are a freaking blast. Liquor will be involved. You will make friends for life.

Define success
You have to know what makes you feel successful. When I started skating, the sum total of my ambition was cross rolls. When I found out how easy they were, and how quickly I got to them I felt incredibly successful-it energized me to see what else I could do.

Have a goal
All endeavors proceed more smoothly with a clear goal, and sometimes even a time line. It can be skill-based, activity based (skate in a competition), schedule based (skate 4 hours a week for a month) and it can change, every few days or every few months or longer. It can even be "hang out with Mary for skating and coffee once a week." Doing something as challenging as skating with no goal in mind at all gets old really fast.

Understand yourself
You have to know what you think you are capable of, and how you learn well. If you're not someone who responds to an autocratic coach, then don't hire that person. If you're fine with skimming through a test, rather than passing with flying colors, then don't hire the perfectionist. Remember that you're an adult. Unlike child skaters you really do get to call the shots. This does not mean be unreceptive to suggestions or pressure to improve, it just means you don't have to do what scares or doesn't interest you.

Understand your coach
Work with one who matches your needs. Don't worry about switching, and screw the gag rule. It's not really meant for you. Most coaches kind of expect adults to come and go, so if you want to switch coaches or rinks, be polite and upfront, but don't feel like you owe the coach your lifelong loyalty.

Listen to your coach
If your coach thinks you can do better, he's probably right. Coaches treat adults with the degree of kid-gloveness that seems appropriate to that skater. An experienced adult coach who is pushing you hard sees that level of competence; he's not trying to send you to the nearest hospital.

Don't listen to your coach
He's not your mother, after all. I'll push an adult so far; if they are really resisting I'll back off. All good adults coaches will do this.

Take your time
As you know if you're a regular reader, I believe that the least important piece of the skating equation is ability. Other impediments stop progress way before any skater bumps up against the supposed limits of their ability--time, money, fear, commitment, motivation, age. Sometimes you reach these impediments because you don't have faith in your ability, or your motivation bumps up against something that's truly difficult for you. But even if you're competing, there are so many competition levels for adults (divided by age, test, and experience to create so many events that only an accountant could love them) that you can always compete at the top of your game, or push your competence a tiny smidge higher.

Lower your expectations
A correlary of take your time. You always wanted an axel, but is a loop enough?

Raise your expectations
Your loop is pretty good, you're healthy and brave, go for that axel after all.

Finally, as a coach, I really really don't want to hear that ANYTHING in the Learn To Skate levels (up to waltz jump) is too hard for you. There is no skater who cannot learn a one-foot turn, it simply is not that hard. If you balk at simple basic skating and don't have a rock bound excuse (for instance I have a student with brain damage; I cut her a little slack) your coach will write you off howsoever wonderful they may be. If you're not willing to invest nerve and effort into your skating, no one else will either.


  1. Xan, I love this post - thank you! I couldn't agree more about camaraderie; I am now skating at a rink where there are other adults and it is so much fun. I do still enjoy skating with the kids too, but, as you point out, theirs is a different experience.

    When I first started working with my current coach, I asked her to please treat me no differently than the kids - I want and need her to push me. She is tough, and I love that.

    In fact, come to think of it, without my first coach pushing me, I would never ever have thought of learning to,jump, or testing, or competing, all of which I enjoy immensely.

  2. Great post! I started skating about 1 1/2 yrs ago and am almost in FS4. I have a feeling I will be stuck in FS4 forever though. We have some adults at our rink but sometimes there are only 2 or 3 people skating when I am.

    I also take adult group classes at another rink and met a lot of other adults which was nice. I just wish I had the money to have a private lesson once a week, usually I just have one a month - all my money goes to my daughter's lessons :(

  3. I really feel exactly like your original quote - this past year I've gone from 2x45 minute lessons per week down to 1x30 due impossible school hours for my little one leading to not enough time to skate/practice and my coach stopping teaching on one of the two sessions I could potentially make (he'd rather play golf)...I know I can't progress as fast without the lessons or lots more practice, and I knew this year would be more about standing still rather than progressing but it's still terribly demotivating.

    Especially when I see other skaters who have time to get to the rink 5 days per week (twice a day some days) getting much better than me.

    Sorry for the whinge!

  4. My dilemma as an adult skater is "overthinking" vs. "going for it": shoulders? arms? toes? turnout of hips? where to look? alignment with the universe? etc. etc.

    Some coaches simply say go for it and dismiss any question that emerges. Some coaches will entertain the endless Q&A. But where should one draw the line?

  5. I think almost all adult skaters overthink :-). My first coach told me she liked me skating in the early morning because my brain didn't get in the way as much :-)

    Great post Xan!

  6. Isolated- that's exactly how I feel. You hit the nail on the head there Xan.

  7. What we need to do is all meet up next summer at the Sun Valley adult clinic!

  8. I kept asking myself if I were too old when I first went back to skating. I was embarrassed to be on the same ice as the kids. But, the more I learn (especially when landing a new jump finally) the more I want to be out there and the more I don't care if I am too old or not. Great post!

  9. Ah yes, over thinking... I'm always doing that.

    Xan, what is the Sun Valley adult clinic? Sounds like fun!! Let's do it!

    Anon I hear you... figuring out how to afford this for both me and my daughter is a challenge.

    "if you're not willing to invest nerve and effort into your skating no one else will either" - amen to that.

  10. I also agree - great post! I started skating at a very advanced age two and a half years ago when I was 59 and it's been really frustrating to see the kids zoom past me in their skill level. However, I have a great encouraging coach and there are several other adults to hang out with - to receive and give encouragement.

    We're even going to ISI Adult Nationals next month and I'm determined to do the best I can, with the nicest costume I can make, even if I'm only skating at Gamma level. I have to keep telling myself that I'm really partly in Delta and partly in Freestyle I so that keeps me going. Now to get that darn left inside three turn!

  11. Nancy, you're going to have a GREAT time at ISI AN. Our Theater-on-ice adult team that goes has a great time, and always comes back really energized. Even that sort of temporary community can work in the same way as a local, more consistent one, and with social media you now can stay connected.

  12. Emily D: Sun Valley Adult Skating Seminar:

  13. Love this Xan! This post captures one of my favorite things about adult skating - we own it! There are so many ways in which we can make the experience what we want it to be. We have a say it what we're learning, who we're learning from, how serious (or not) we want to be about it. In a time of life where I'm surrounded by job/family/life responsibilities, this is the one thing that is all mine. Sure, I wish I had more time/money to put toward it. But I also know that the money and time I put toward it now are well worth the investment. I feel like such a dork sometimes because I'm an awful skater and yet, I really love it. Adult skating rocks!

  14. Nancy, you inspire me to keep going!

    Mer11, you are so right - "this is the one thing that is all mine". Plus the fact that once on the ice, everything else just fades away. I love having a place where all the rest of life's demands recede.

    I don't believe you when you say you are an awful skater, by the way. I know you learned the Dutch waltz!

    Xan, the event in Sun Valley sounds fabulous. So who is winning the lottery so we can all go?!!

  15. Thank you so much for this post, Xan!

    @orangechiffon, MKP, anon @7:12 -- Oh, if only we were all in the same town. We could make our own little community! (Is it possible any of you are in MI?) I'm the only adult taking lessons on Tues mornings, often one of only three or four people at the mid-day public ice, and while the luxury of space to work on whatever I want can't be beat, it is completely without community. I love the ideas to seek out the ice show or groups at other rinks too... I will try that. I really need someone to help me feel like I'm not just skating in a vacuum.

    Re over-thinking (which I agree most adults probably do): I also know I'm a little too chicken, and the combination is holding me back. I'm hoping some off-ice jumping will help me gain some confidence about all the details of body position, so maybe I will stop over-thinking and just jump already...we'll see.

    Thanks so much for all the great ideas for keeping motivated. I feel a little better already.

  16. Hi Xan,

    Can you make a post on skating protection. Is padding helpful or harmful? Skaters on yahoo answers say padding is a crutch. Is falling on your knees over time damaging them.

    Do coaches care or encourage/discourage their skaters wearing padding?

  17. 7:13 Anon, I'm actually working on a post about safety equipment. Sit tight!

  18. Actually, just remembered this:

  19. And then there are the great days, like today, when I finally got my lutz back after a 10 year hiatus!!!

  20. Very entertaining. Thank you! Love the photo of the skates with kisses and reference to swizzles. I am also a coach and teach swizzles the same way...."toes kiss, toes kiss".

    Thanks for the great read!